India Reacts to Pakistan Floods

India Reacts to Pakistan Floods

Pakistani Rangers (in black) and Indian Border Security Force personnel perform the daily retreat ceremony on the India-Pakistan border at Wagah in Dec. 2008. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

By Komal Hiranandani

MUMBAI, September 6, 2010 -
As Pakistan
faces devastating floods inundating an area larger than the size of England, India's
response, and Pakistan's response to India's response, reveals much about the
state of international relations and the need to overcome historic tensions at
a time of such desperate need.

Dawn,
a Pakistani newspaper, compared the current situation to that of the partition
between India and Pakistan, arguing that "This year's floods have brought more devastation to what is now Pakistan than any event since the mass migration and mass murder
that accompanied partition in 1947. What happened 63 years ago shaped the fate
of this country. So too could the current disaster." Dawn observed that the
current floods should be transformative, in that they reveal to us things that we
might hide from otherwise.

It is in this spirit that we
explore the interactions between India and Pakistan on the sidelines of the
Pakistan floods.

Indian
Media Bias?

The Indian
media have been derided for under-reporting the tragedy of the floods in
Pakistan, and for focussing instead on more trivial issues that make a bigger
"splash," like President Asif Ali Zardari getting a shoe hurled at him in Birmingham.
Journalists and bloggers have documented the length and content of Indian news
reports on the Pakistan floods compared to coverage in other countries.

For
instance, Kalpana Sharma, columnist for The
Hindu
newspaper, accused
the Indian media
of ignoring a huge human tragedy and detailed how Indian
news sources carried far less or negligible coverage on the Pakistan floods
than international media like the BBC; and when Indian media did cover the floods, they emphasized political angles rather than human tragedies.

A blogger on Pakistan Painabad observed,
"I checked out the latest issue of India Today, the country's leading news
weekly. There was no story on the floods in its thick 152 pages. The last page,
though, had a small anecdote on Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani
being an admirer of Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar. The other reference, on
page 22, had a weekly column by the magazine's Editor-at-Large, S.
Prasannarajan, in which he blamed the ongoing Kashmir unrest being 'played out
under the gaze of Pakistan, which has unarguably become the unofficial
headquarters of jihad.'"

'It's Not About Pakistan'
On the
other side, issues such as the floods' potential to strengthen terrorist
groups would be of genuine concern to Indian readers, so it is understandable
that Indian news presents those angles. Moreover, the region in general has
been prone to natural disasters (India too is currently contending severe
floods and droughts in several parts), which do not always get as much coverage
in local news as they do abroad.

The editor-at-large of Hindustan Times newspaper, Samar Halarnkar, said in defense of the Indian press: "In
Hindustan Times, we are carrying 7-8 column space daily on the floods. You
can't do more because your readership doesn't care about calamities such as
floods, unless it's happening in their own backyard. This is a modern media
issue. It's not about Pakistan. How many people know that Bihar [an Indian
state] is reeling under a severe drought currently?"

Either way,
the accusation is a serious oneā€”one that news publishers and newsreaders alike
should be sensitive to.

 

Komal Hiranandani is a staff member of Asia Society India Centre. The opinions expressed in this piece are entirely his own and do not reflect the views of the Asia Society India Centre.

September 9, 2010
by Jeff Tompkins